Chaos, Complexity, Uncertainty and Control

I have found the study of chaos and uncertainty to be fascinating, especially as it regards human behavior, perception and decision making.  Chaos and complexity, or even the perception of them, have profound influence on the way we think and the decisions we make.  As I reflect on my life and judgments, I see how chaos can help to radically refine previously held assumptions and quickly narrow priorities.  It can also bewilder and paralyze.  Complexity can be equally difficult to consider.  I know that some of my worst decisions resulted in a failure to adequately contemplate every conceivable outcome from a decision.  In fact, that’s probably impossible to do, which ought to require an increased abundance of prudence in decision making, particularly where the risks and costs of failure are both high, or even if it is only the latter.  That rare event with catastrophic events shouldn’t be discounted.

It is interesting to me also, from a societal standpoint, how groups of people respond to these things.  Beyond chaos and complexity is the uncertainty of future (or even present) realities.  What we believe to be true about ourselves and others is usually wrong.  We tend to overstate our own strengths and others’ weaknesses.  This inability to accurately evaluate reality should frighten us and greatly undermine our confidence in making decisions.

After a few years on ‘sabbatical’, dealing with a rather closed society well-suited to extensive study and observation, and a great deal of ‘free’ time to reflect, I have reached some conclusions about how people deal with uncertainty and how much many humans seem to need a great deal of control (interior and exterior).  For all of our society’s talk of freedom and liberty, especially our individualistic culture, it seems that we are not well suited to it.  That is, we claim to like it, perhaps it is pleasurable, but it is not really consistent with our good.  More on that later.

Here’s a fascinating article if you are, like one FB friend described me, a ‘nerd’:

Before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I am insensitive to the fate of the 239 persons aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, and to their families and friends, let me assure you that I empathize as much as others with the suffering inflicted upon these people. But there is something more significant about the presumed deaths of these 239 persons.

For a month, the mainstream media, government officials, and seemingly millions of other individuals, have been obsessed with finding not only the plane, but the explanation for its disappearance. Why such a highly energized interest? Is it the destiny of the 239 persons aboard the flight? During the same time period that this flight has been missing, some 682 military veterans committed suicide, a figure more than two-and-one-half times the numbers aboard this airliner. There have been prior plane crashes that claimed more victims, but without the preoccupation attending this one. Earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other natural events have taken more lives but, being “natural” occurrences, are understood to be part of the uncertainties that attend life on our turbulent spaceship. Wars have led to the deaths of millions of equally innocent men, women, and children, but most of us have internalized the insane proposition that wars are essential features of “civilization.” We are supposed to have wars, they are what make us “exceptional!”

The explanation for our obsession with Flight 370 can be found, I suspect, deep within our individual and collective psyches. You may recall The Twilight Zone episode in which an airliner full of passengers finds itself trapped in some fourth-dimension above New York City. The pilots try desperately to land the plane, only to discover that the city below them has no present existence, being as it was decades earlier. We are asked to imagine ourselves in such a dire situation, and to listen for the endless sounds of engines as those aboard this plane seek to overcome their apparent fate.

You can read the rest here.

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